Texans to Watch: Denver Edition

Patrick D. Starr

The Texans quietly march into Mile High Stadium this Sunday sporting a 2-0 record, facing what is by far their biggest test of the young season. The Texans, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, are the #2 ranked team in the NFL, but you’d never know it. Meanwhile, the Broncos are regrouping after a Monday night defeat against the Atlanta Falcons. The Broncos made several uncharacteristic mistakes, led by future hall of famer Peyton Manning throwing three interceptions.

Even though the Texans are statistically the better team, including being undefeated, they are a 1 point underdog, and rightfully so. Respect is earned and this is their chance.

Can they do it? Absolutely, and this edition of Texans to Watch will show you some of the players that will be key components in accomplishing the win.

First, Denver’s Manning was an elite quarterback while with the Colts and before several neck surgeries. He has shown flashes of his elite past this year, but Monday night versus the Falcons’ good (not great) defense, he threw several forced passes that lacked the timing and distinct tight spiral we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing. He also lacked composure early on in that game. I believe he still has the vision, the ability to recognize, ability to check down, and audible – all the intangibles, but as far as I could tell, the velocity on the ball is lacking as well as the ability to throw the deep pass. This could turn out to be a dangerous thing for Mr. Manning – your mind says one thing and your arm says another.

Not only does the game film suggest as much, but this theory was confirmed Monday night when the Bronco’s had rookie quarterback Brock Osweiler warming up to throw a Hail Mary. “I was going in for the Hail Mary,” Osweiler told Mike Klis of the Denver Post. “I’m not sure what the dividing line was as far as me going in, but I was getting ready to go in.”

In the history of Peyton Manning, he has never sat out during a last minute heroic effort…never, ever. Nevertheless, he is still a future first ballot hall of famer – the all time Texans’ nemesis Peyton Manning.

Texans To Watch: Defense

It is hard to imagine Manning will throw 3 interceptions two weeks in a row. However, making Manning extremely uncomfortable in the pocket should be the game plan for Coach Wade Phillips. The question is can the Texans get to Manning before he unloads on the short to intermediate passes? I don’t think Manning can throw the deep pass accurately like in the past, so my Texans to watch defensively are the entire defensive front. “We felt that if we could rattle him (Manning) early, we could dictate the flow of the game. The main focus was to confuse him all game,” Atlanta Falcons’ safety Thomas DeCoud said after Monday night’s game.

If the Texans’ defensive front 7 can perform, then it will be on the Texans’ cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, and Brice McCain to keep the very good Broncos' receivers in check. The Broncos typically use the run to keep defenses honest to setup the short to intermediate pass. The Texans’ cornerbacks will probably be man to man with little to no help, so they will need to play outstanding.

I suspect the Texans will play a lot of nickel defense with Cushing the lone inside linebacker and strong safety Daniel Manning playing closer to the line of scrimmage. On one play last week versus Jacksonville, the Texans used three safeties with Quin, Demps and Manning – who played near Cushing as a hybrid safety-linebacker. This is a solid defensive alignment to play against the “pass first” teams such as the Broncos.

The Falcons disguised their safeties with the appearance of playing near the linebackers but then backing quickly into coverage, forcing Peyton Manning into misreads and 3 interceptions. Keep in mind though, the Broncos will probably run some form or variation of a hurry up offense to attempt to slow the Texans’ pass rush, in effect wearing out the Texans’ defensive line.

Texans to Watch: Offense

It will be interesting to see how Kubiak starts this game offensively. The Texans will be going against former Jacksonville head coach and current Broncos’ defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. They play a 4-3 base defense. Last year the Broncos were 22nd against the run and it appears they made a concerted effort this year to improving that ranking. The Broncos are 7th against the run but haven’t faced a Foster/Tate combination yet.

In the Atlanta game, the Falcons chose to throw a lot and the Broncos were playing most of the game in a 3 down linemen, 3 linebackers, 5 defensive backs, or a nickel alignment. This is an easier defensive alignment to run against, so Matt Schaub will be responsible for identifying and checking in or out of certain plays to either run or pass the ball.

If the Broncos have a “weak-link”, it is the middle linebackers (Joe Mays and Wesley Woodyard) and safeties (Mike Adams and Rahim Moore). In the Atlanta game, tight end Tony Gonzalez had a big game over the middle and down the seams matched up against linebackers and safeties. I am looking for Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham and James Casey to be used often over the middle. Their success should open up one on one matchups with Andre Johnson.

While Denver has solid cornerback play in Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter, I could also see Kubiak getting Andre Johnson involved in deep crossing or post patterns – exploiting the weaker Denver safeties. Suck the safeties up with short passes to the tight ends over the middle and then beat them up top to Andre Johnson.

The key for the Texans' offense is taking what the defense gives you – just like they did last week versus Jacksonville. Another key factor will be giving quarterback Matt Schaub time to throw.

Can offensive tackle Duane Brown and Derek Newton hold off the dangerous pass rush from the edge in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller?

If Brown and Newton can fend off Dumervil and Miller by themselves, this will free up the Texans’ tight ends and running backs to run pass routes. If not, then the Texans will be forced to use an extra player or players to help block. The game is a chess match – or games within the game. The team that can execute and adjust is the one that will be victorious.

Who are your Texans To Watch?

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